Listening to Donald Trump lay out his vision of immigration policy is like scavenging in a garbage dump. You will probably find some things worth keeping, but you have to wade through a lot of trash to find it. And you can be sure that whatever you really need won’t be there.
His address Thursday would not have been complete without the familiar, false Trump themes that animate him and many of his loyal followers. He accused Democrats of favoring “open borders.” He portrayed the status quo as “lawless chaos.” He insisted that immigrants are a threat to U.S. jobs.
It’s all nonsense. Last year, 44 Senate Democrats voted to give him $25 billion for his border wall – the antithesis of “open borders.” All they wanted in exchange was a path to citizenship for 1.8 million undocumented immigrants (the “dreamers”) brought here as children. But 42 Republicans were opposed.
If there is turmoil at the border, it’s not lawless or dangerous. The surge of migrants at the southern border consists mostly of people from Central America requesting asylum. They are entitled to apply for refuge from persecution under both U.S. law and international conventions signed by the U.S. government.
The real chaos is in the violent places these applicants have fled, which the administration shows little interest in trying to ameliorate. In fact, Trump has announced a cut of $450 million in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
If immigrants are stealing jobs from Americans, why is the U.S. unemployment rate the lowest it has been since 1969? Filling jobs is not a zero-sum game, where each job done by a foreigner means unemployment for an American citizen.
Migrants from abroad, legal or undocumented, also create jobs. Economists generally conclude that they have little if any negative effect on wages.
For Trump to address the broad issue of immigration while offering nothing for those foreigners protected under Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals is unconscionable as policy and inept as politics.
Many if not most of these young people are American in every way except their place of birth. To expel them to places most of them hardly remember, whose language they may not even speak, would be pointless cruelty. But Trump can’t be bothered to find a way to let them stay.
His refusal dooms any proposal that needs the approval of Congress. If the opposition party wasn’t prepared to abandon the “dreamers” when Republicans had a majority in both houses, it isn’t going to do so now that Nancy Pelosi is speaker of the House. A package that does nothing for the DACA population is as viable as a snowball in a sauna.
This is no secret even in the administration. The Washington Post reported, “A number of White House aides are skeptical of the plan having any chance of passing and say the president having a Rose Garden speech for immigration is a waste of his time.”
But his plan’s fatal elements may be a feature, not a bug. Anything that could be passed into law would provoke the fury of anti-immigration voters. They aren’t content with preventing unauthorized arrivals; they also insist on blocking foreigners from coming legally.
Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies, complained beforehand that Trump’s blueprint would “not include any reduction in the overall level of legal immigration.” This comes as a disappointment from those who applauded when Trump announced that “our country is full.” But because his plan has no chance of passage, it should not alienate this loyal bloc.
He wants to replace family-based immigration with a “merit-based” system that gives preference to foreigners based on skills, English proficiency, education and job offers. Though that approach is not entirely without, um, merit, the U.S. economy doesn’t benefit only from foreigners who can work at tech firms. Those willing to pick vegetables and process poultry are also assets. We can admit both.
Conservatives often say that would-be immigrants should follow the rules, get in line and wait their turn. But the White House admits that under this policy, many people who have done that – often waiting years – would have to go to the back of the line.
That shameful feature highlights another way that listening to Trump on immigration resembles a visit to the dump. Afterward, you need a shower.